Academy Time!

Summer is certainly our very busy time here at Peaceable Paws, and the endless weeks of 90-plus degree heat seem to be making our academies and workshops more tiring than usual. So here it is Thursday already, the AC in my office is not working again (and it’s going to be over 90 again), and I’m waaaay behind on getting this blog done. I intended to get to it last Sunday, immediately after our Level 1 Academy, but Sunday was the Humane Society of Washington County’s “Bone to be Wild” motorcycle ride, and I was just too hot and tired when it was done to think about writing. So here we are… better late than never!

Academy week was terrific – hard work, and very satisfying. We had great humans and great dogs – always an excellent combination. The week is about half hands-on training – we work with dogs from the shelter – and half lecture and discussion.

Day One we talk in the morning, then go to the shelter for a tour, and to select dogs. My wonderful husband Paul does the tour. I usually arrive at the same time as the students, but a storm was threatening, so I phoned to tell him I was delayed bringing horses in, and they went ahead without me.

Good thing! As Estie (one of our paid staff) and I were bringing horses in, Sturgis the pig decided to go walkabout. He usually sticks pretty close to the barn, but when the horses were all in their stalls, he was nowhere to be found. Estee and I spent a frantic 45 minutes calling, banging the garbage can lid (which usually brings him running because it means food) and searching for him. I finally found him halfway down the ½-mile long driveway. Just as I pulled up behind him in my car, I saw him nose the horse’s electric fence, give a piggy squeal and dash toward the road. Damn!

I headed after him in the car and he finally turned off into the edge of the woods. Phew! Now – how to get him back? I didn’t have his leash and harness with me, and didn’t want to leave him to go back to the barn for it.  I had been toying with the idea of teaching him to walk up a ramp into the car, but hadn’t put that into his training repertoire yet, so that was out. When we got him last October I could pick him up, but I was pretty sure he’d grown too large for that. I gave it a try anyway, and ended up sprawled on the ground, hanging on for dear life, with no chance of lifting him.

Finally I engaged my trainer brain and used a little gentle negative reinforcement, swinging a leash behind him, annoying him just enough to herd him back to the barn and safely into his stall. Then I raced to the shelter, arriving just as Paul was finishing up the tour.

The seven Interns had 10 dogs to choose from. They get to spend a little time with the dogs, then each write their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices on a slip of paper, and I get to decide who gets whom.

This Academy, we had:

Gina Burger, working with Sparrow, an intense but very responsive Collie Shepherd mix.


Diane Curran with Brandon, a somewhat solemn Akita mix that I adore


Jana Frank with Bongo, a happy Husky mix with a great sense of humor


Joan Morse, CPDT-KA (high scoring graduate!) with Nook, an adorable, thoughtful Dachshund/Jack Russell mix


Tracey Peter, a shelter employee, started with Abby, a very attentive Border Collie/Chow, but Abby got sick on Day Two and Tracey switched to Guinness, a much more challenging Hound mix. Guinness finally agreed to lie down on Thursday.


Gayle Rojas, worked with Teddy, a remarkably wonderful Boxer. Academy assistant Steve Buckman is still trying to figure out how he could add Teddy to his pack of two Boston Terriers.


And last but certainly not least, Susan Duffy did an excellent job with Willow, a 4-month-old Lab mix pup who was almost as mouthy as Maggie, our recent foster Westie.

Tuesday through Friday we had a discussion session each morning until our dogs arrived from the shelter, and then everyone got a 45-minute hike around the farm to reduce stress and burn up shelter-kennel energy.


Then a group class, where we teach our 6-week Basic Good Manners curriculum in 5 days. There are additional discussion sessions each day where we sort out the mysteries of canine body language, operant and classical conditioning, schedules of reinforcement, laws of shaping, rules of stimulus control, business basics, ethical dilemmas, and more. We also do two additional training sessions with dogs each day, during which I work one-on-one with the Interns and their dogs. Students are invited to observe any of our evening that are going on during the week, and they get three take-home open-book quizzes.

Finally, Saturday morning arrives – time for the written final (not open book) and the practical exam, where each student demonstrates to the group what s/he has accomplished with her/his dog during the week. Finally, after tearful good-byes to the dogs, I meet individually with each Intern to talk about their academy experience, and how we can help them attain their goals for the future. Congratulations, Interns! Two Level 2 academies to go and you can add PMCT (Pat Miller Certified Trainer) after your name!

Left to right: Gina and Willow, me, Joan and Nook, Jana and Bongo, Susan and Willow, Tracey and Guinness, Gayle and Teddy, Diane and Brandon

I’m always a little sad to see everyone leave, but I know I will see many of them again – at future Peaceable Paws academies and workshops, and at seminars and conferences – Clicker Expo, APDT, and more. I am also always hugely impressed by how much humans and dogs can learn in just 6 days. I see students leave with a much better  understanding of the scientific principles of behavior and learning, and with much greater confidence in their skills as trainers. The dogs go back to the shelter with a solid repertoire of basic good manners behaviors, and in some cases a new-found grasp of the value of having a relationship with humans. They also get a certificate for a free 7-week Peaceable Paws good manners class, and their new humans get a copy of the PPaws class training book so they know what their dogs have learned.

Now – onto the next events: a Shaping Workshop this weekend (one of my favorite things to do!) followed by an Instructor Academy the week of August 2nd.

Questions for the day: Will it ever cool off? Will it ever rain?

Oh, by the way, as of Tuesday, all the Academy dogs except Teddy had already gone to their new homes. That’s a record!

Warm Woofs and Happy Training.


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